By LOU KORAC
DENVER -- Knowing they had two games in back-to-back days that would determine their playoff fate, with a full objective of winning a game Friday in Chicago ahead of a huge showdown in Denver on Saturday against Colorado, the Blues' coaching staff did a masterful job in managing minutes throughout the lineup in a 4-1 win against the Blackhawks.
With a showdown to see which team will make it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday, the Blues were able to balance the minutes for all those affected, including defenseman and top minutes eater Alex Pietrangelo, who finished Friday with just 20 minutes, 26 seconds of ice time.
Pietrangelo, who played the exact same amount of time as sixth defenseman Chris Butler, a recent emergency call-up, is sixth in the NHL at 25:42 per game.
Pietrangelo's partner, Joel Edmundson, was under 20 minutes at 19:15, 1:26 under his average time of 20:41. But that's because guys like Butler and Robert Bortuzzo, who finished with the second-highest total of the season for him at 19:01 after averaging 14:48. Colton Parayko, who is second in the team at 22:38 per game, was limited to exactly 20 minutes, but partner Vince Dunn, who played 20:56, picked up the slack, which is up from his 17:11 per game.
And how about the top lines?
Well, Brayden Schenn, who is averaging 19:40 per game (tops among forwards), was held to 17 minutes; Jaden Schwartz, who is second among forwards at 19:22 per game, played just 16:36 on Friday. Vladimir Tarasenko, who plays 19:16 per game on average, was at 15:53 on Friday. Alexander Steen, whose season average is 18:38 per game, was also limited to 16:30, and Patrik Berglund, who scored his second NHL hat trick Friday, plays 16:06 per game, but he was held to 14:55 on Friday.
But you had the fourth line (Ivan Barbashev, Nikita Soshnikov and Chris Thorburn) all over 10 minutes; Thorburn averages 7:05 per game.
Dmitrij Jaskin (16 minutes on Friday), picked up the slack from his season average of 12:24, as did Tage Thompson at 14:02, up from his season average of 11:55. And Vladimir Sobotka was right on his average of 17:06 at 17:21.
Kyle Brodziak averages 13:44 but it's been drastically up since being moved up to center the second line. He finished at 15:44 Friday.
It was well-needed considering the Blues will play in the altitude on Saturday and will need the fresh legs to try and hold onto that last playoff berth, which they hold by a single point.
The Blues need just one point tonight in any fashion to clinch.
"That was the plan going in," Yeo said of the managing of minutes. "Regardless, we knew if you win last night and you don't come here and do the job today, then it's not going to matter. There was certainly an eye on today even though we played that game last night, wanted to win the game last night. No matter what the plan was, no matter how the game was going, we planned on using everybody in that game. I think it should help us tonight in terms of making sure we have the energy to go out there and perform at the level that we need to.
"He's just got to do his job, that's plain and simple from every guy tonight. At the end of the night, then somebody's going to be looked at as a hero, but ultimately, when we're playing at our best, we have a bunch of guys going out there and doing their jobs and doing their job really well. When that happens, somebody has a chance to be a hero at the end of the night. But that doesn't happen unless you have everybody going and playing well and doing their thing and that's our focus today."
Yeo said he hasn't even thought about any sort of short leash on Allen.
"I'm not thinking that way, no," he said. "We're not getting caught right now thinking of the final outcome. We have to make sure that we're ready for the start and be ready for what follows."
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The Blues would have rather clinched their place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs much sooner, as Brodziak put it, but you can't deny that this brings out an excitement for players, coaches, fans and all alike.
The Blues move on to face Nashville by gaining at least one point in any fashion tonight. The only way they are sent home for the season is losing in regulation.
"It's pretty crazy," Brodziak said. "Obviously we could have scripted it better so we don't go into this right now, but it's a Game 7 and that's the most exciting hockey, the most fun hockey game, especially young guys who haven't been involved in a moment like that. It's going to be crazy, emotional and we're going to have fun with it."
If anyone understands the feeling of the game today (8 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), it's coach Mike Yeo.
In 2013, then-Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo needed a win at Pepsi Center to secure their spot in the playoffs in the final game of the regular-season, and second of back-to-backs.
The Wild won that game 3-1, and Yeo is hoping for the same result with the Blues tonight.
"No, to be honest with you, I haven't even thought about that," Yeo said. "We weren't trying to get in against that team. Obviously this is a different time, but when you have to win your last game, obviously it's intense. There's lots of pressure.
"... (Winning Friday) clears the picture. There's work to be done, but now we know what we need for tomorrow and obviously that's going to be an intense hockey game. Your whole life, when you play the game, when you're on the outdoor rinks, when you're playing road hockey, these are the games you dream of. As a player, you have to embrace that and get excited about it."
And that's exactly what the Blues, who are 3-1-0 against the Avalanche this season, including a 4-3 win in Denver on Oct. 19, hope to do.
"It means we stay alive to come into that game tomorrow and have a really good chance," Berglund said. "I think we all played a pretty good game [Friday]. It's good for everybody's confidence and we know what we have to do tomorrow and we have to rest up and be ready."
Goalie Carter Hutton, who made 19 saves in his first start since March 3 on Friday, gave the Blues the boost in goal they needed to give Jake Allen the chance to get into Denver early and rest up for the game tonight.
"Yeah, it's crazy," he said. "To think that it would work out this way, you know we're playing Colorado for all of the marbles tomorrow, it's awesome. It's something that is great for the game, it's going to be a battle, it's going to be a lot of fun and we're looking forward to it."
The Blues did not hold a morning skate and any lineup changes won't be known until Yeo speaks at 5:30 p.m. local time (6:30 p.m. Central), but it's expected that Allen will be the starter tonight, and Hutton supports the decision.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, yeah. Jake has already gone to hang out there and get ready and he's going to go," Hutton said after the game Friday. "He's been great. I think it's a smart move. Instead of him having to travel and get in there late ... knowing that I'm here and we have a capable backup in Ville [Husso], just to get [Allen] set up and get a good night's sleep tonight because we're going to need him tomorrow."
Yeo's message to fans is to enjoy what tonight brings. It'll bring intensity and plenty of drama.
"I'm a coach and I'll be enjoying it," Yeo said. "There's lots of drama here, lots of excitement, there's going to be lots of hype around it. It's still going to be a tough test, that's the thing, we got tonight, but who knows what time we're going to get in (to Denver; they landed at 1:01 a.m. local time). They're sitting there, obviously they're rested and obviously that's a had a lot of success at home, so we still have a lot of work to be done here for us to accomplish our goal of getting into the playoffs."
Hutton echoed the sentiments of enjoying the situation.
"You have to ... I think you have to," he said. "I think part of you, you're emotions are on your sleeve. We could sit here and look back at games where we could've stole a couple more points or did a couple of more things different. But what's done is done and it's all on the line tomorrow. Anything that happened this season doesn't matter, other than tomorrow."
"We got one (win) and now we got work tomorrow. We just give ourselves a chance. If it goes to overtime, we can sneak in that way, too. But we're going there to beat them tomorrow."
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Berglund's production has been no coincidence, and a veteran player can go in a different direction when a coach makes the bold move of asking such player to reset, but that's exactly what Yeo did when he sat Berglund Feb. 28 against Detroit.
At the time, Berglund only had 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 40 games. In the 16 games since, he's scored nine time and has 11 points.
"I give 'Bergy' an awful lot of credit," Yeo said. "We spent some time talking about that and he took a lot of ownership. One of the things that deserves mentioning and it's a lesson for a lot of players is obviously he didn't have a lot of confidence at that time, but what he did was he went on the ice for every single optional skate, he went on early. Every single day, he stayed on late, he put the work in. That was why he got his confidence back and I'm happy to see a guy like that when he puts in that work get rewarded.
"It says a lot about him. It says a lot about the person that he is and the character that he has. Happy for him. Those aren't easy decisions at the time. For the reason we brought him out, it's not because of that he didn't care. He just wasn't on top of his game and it was a chance for him to reset and he handled it the right way."
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With two assists Friday, Brodziak has nine helpers in the past 10 games and he has assists in seven of those games. His 23 assists this season match a career-high set with the Wild in 2009-10.
"Thank you, I didn't even know that," Brodziak said. "No, I didn't know that. I don't really know what to say about it. It's been a lot of fun the last little while and we want to keep it going as long as we can.
"Yeah, it's fun. It's a lot of fun to be counted on more during the games. Obviously the guys I'm playing with are two pretty good hockey players. It's been a lot of fun. I'm trying to enjoy every moment and that's basically it, just trying to stay in the moment, enjoy what I'm doing. Yeah, it's been a lot of fun."
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The Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy hit the hockey community all over North America, and before he spoke before the big game tonight, Yeo offered his condolences for all involved.
"A really big game today and spent a lot of time getting ready for it, but given what happened there last night, should definitely start by saying on behalf of the Blues, on behalf of the players, the Humboldt Broncos, we all feel terrible for what happened," Yeo said. "We've all been on those buses, we've all had kids on those buses, so thoughts and prayers.
"You finish that game [Friday] and you're so wrapped up in that game and what's going on with you and you read that news afterwards, it's shocking."
Schenn, a Saskatchewan native, tweeted his condolences last night after the game: https://twitter.com/Bschenn_10/status/982468930097819648
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Oskar Sundqvist will get back into the lineup, as Yeo indicated Friday morning, and he will replace Thompson.
"He's back in and Tage is coming out," Yeo said. "'Sosh' did a pretty good job last night and I thought his speed was noticeable. I think this is going to be a skating game, so hopefully he can factor in there."
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Yeo was asked about the uniqueness of the game and if it was 3-3 or tied in any fashion late, if he expects the Avalanche to pull their goalie to try and win the game since the only way the Avalanche get in is if they win in regulation.
"We know what to expect, we know what the scenarios are," Yeo said. "We definitely have to be ready for that stuff."
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Pietrangelo will pass Bob Plager and move into second in Blues history among defensemen for games played with Game No. 617.
Thorburn will dress in his 800th NHL game tonight.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund-Kyle Brodziak-Alexander Steen
Dmitrij Jaskin-Vladimir Sobotka-Ivan Barbashev
Nikita Soshnikov-Oskar Sundqvist-Chris Thorburn
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko
Chris Butler-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches are projected to include Tage Thompson, Ville Husso, Mitch Reinke and Nolan Stevens. Jordan Schmaltz (upper body) is day to day, Scottie Upshall (lacerated kidney) is out indefinitely and Jay Bouwmeester (hip), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Carl Gunnarsson (knee) are out for the season.
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The Avalanche's projected lineup:
Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Sven Andrighetto-Alexander Kerfoot-Tyson Jost
Matt Nieto-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau
Colin Wilson-J.T. Compher-Gabriel Bourque
Nikita Zadorov-Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth-Samuel Girard
Mark Barberio-Mark Alt
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal; Andrew Hammond will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include David Warsofsky, Nail Yakupov, Duncan Siemens, Dominic Toninato, Anton Lindholm and Vladislav Kamenev. Semyon Varlamov (knee) and Erik Johnson (knee) are out.